There is much confusion had by people when they hear that some “hope for the salvation of all.” While the intricate details of that hope are beyond our scope here, we are not going to set out and explain how God is able to work out that hope to make it possible. Instead, it is important to set a few things straight so that those arguing against such hope can argue against what it teaches and not what they erroneously assume it means.
The hope for the salvation of all is not universalism. It is not the belief that all will be saved. It does require the possibility that all can saved, however difficult that might seem to be, but it is not indicative that all will be saved, just as much as if we say “I hope I will be saved” does not mean we believe we necessarily will be saved. Paul made this clear when he said, “Well, I do not run aimlessly, I do not box as one beating the air; but I pommel my body and subdue it, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified” (1 Cor. 9:26-7 RSV). Paul knew he had to run the race to the end to receive the hoped for prize, salvation; what he preached to others might still be something he did not attain if he did not hold on and follow Christ to the very end.
Hope for the salvation of all does not say there is no hell. The fact that we hope all will be saved means that it is possible that some, many, or most will not be saved, and if they are not saved they will partake of eternal perdition. Even if it happens that the hope is fulfilled and all end up being saved, this does not mean there is no hell: Jesus established it as the place where sin and defilement are placed in his descent into death. There is no denial of hell; its harsh reality is there to be feared by us all. And its effects, the everlasting dung heap of sin which has been set aflame, can be felt by us all in and through our sins as they are purged from us and sent to hell.Hope for the salvation of all follows God’s desire for the salvation of all. “This is good, and it is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:3-4 RSV). God loves the world, all of it, that he desires for the salvation of all within it. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:16-17 RSV). Our hope is that God’s desire shall be fulfilled. It really is good news that Jesus came to save the world, to follow through to work for the salvation of all. Objectively, it can be said, this has actually been done since all things come to be preserved in him: sin is prevented from destroying being. Subjectively, how that reworking of creation is applied, is what is left in question. Will there be an acceptance of Christ’s work, bringing eternal beatitude, or will someone perpetually resist it, leading to perdition? We do not know. St. Augustine caused a problem with his reading of the above verses which has remained within the West ever since: he denied the simple reading of the verses (which even Augustinians following him would try to correct) and said that these verses only applied to those God has determined to save, that “the world” is not universal, and that the “all” is not really all, but only means all the elect. This is how he is able to separate the saved and the damned and believe that there is a massive number of the damned, because God did not will to save them; if he did, they would be saved. Augustine lacks the East’s understanding of synergy which is why he has to see salvation as only something God either wills or does not will for us, and has nothing to do with what we will.